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Fatal Injuries

In deciding a question of admiralty jurisdiction, nonfatal and fatal injuries are considered differently.  In a tort resulting in death, it is the place of occurrence of the injury that is taken into consideration to decide whether the tort was committed on navigable water or on land, and not the place of death.  If a fatal injury is caused onboard a vessel and the injured person dies after reaching land, the wrong is deemed to have occurred onboard the vessel and thus comes under the purview of admiralty jurisdiction.

In Vancouver S.S. Co. v. Rice, 288 U.S. 445 (U.S. 1933), a steamship was taking on lumber in the navigable waters of the Columbia River.  Decedent was a stevedores loading the ship.  Decedent was struck by a falling sling-load of lumber on the deck and died an hour later.  The death was allegedly caused by defendant’s negligence in the maintenance of the ship’s winch that was used to hoist the lumber.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the substance and consummation of the occurrence that resulted in the decedent’s death and gave rise to his cause of action took place on the deck of the ship lying in navigable waters.  Decedent’s recovery rights were based on a wrongful act or omission taking effect aboard the ship and with the result happening upon the land.  Therefore the claim was a marital tort and the admiralty court had jurisdiction.

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